Monday, February 29, 2016

Tracking Costs

The winds are howling around the corners of the house this sunny late winter afternoon. Dark clouds are chasing each other across the sky. I'm closeted away in my office with a cup of Woman of Power tea from our friends at Bear Mountain Herbs. Weather this winter has followed a pattern of unseasonable warmth followed by cold spells. The truly frigid weather with temperatures below zero was short-lived. Except for a week or so of ice and snow, it's been an open winter.
Seeds have begun to arrive, awaiting entry into the software we use (Agsquared) for farm management. New to us is a cost-tracking feature which I am anxious to try -- mostly due to a workshop I attended at the Farming For The Future Conference (PASA) earlier this month.
 Presenter Richard Wiswall walked the group (probably numbering close to 100) through calculations to determine the cost of production for organic eggs. Needless to say, I was shocked at what the actual production costs were.

Attending that workshop opened my eyes to the fact that this farm needs to be run like a business. We can't afford to look at pricing like we have in the past where prices were determined by checking a couple of websites and then a quick trip through the supermarket.
Both Arthur and I take great pride in the work that we are doing here on the farm.  It's not unusual for us to put in 12 hour-plus days, often in the hot sun, cold winds and rain. We must get enough money for our products to make it worthwhile to continue to do this.
By taking a look at the actual production costs, we might find we have been overcharging for some vegetables and we also might discover that we have been selling food at prices that don't cover the costs of production.
And what do you get for your money? Fresh (mostly picked the day of sale), certified organic (your proof that we are following the high standards of the USDA), vegetables and fruits. We select our varieties based on the growing conditions here in northcentral Pennsylvania. Plus we grow many, many varieties to help keep diversity in the food chain.

Farmers' Market 2014
You can buy cheap produce anywhere. We grow for those who care about what they put in their bodies. And remember, for those on limited incomes, we participate in the Farmers Market Nutrition Program that provides coupons for Senior Citizens and WIC participants to purchase from farmers or farmers markets.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Farming For The Future

A young woman with a tablet computer approached me in the busy hallway at the Penn Stater Conference Center where I was spending the day at the 25th PASA Conference on Friday. Would I participate in a survey? I answered the requisite questions about my age, how many acres I farm and how I learned about the conference. I had to stop to think when she asked me how many conferences I had attended.

I remembered hearing Ben Hewitt telling me (among other things) that I need to remember that the the way you spend your time is the way you spend your life. His talk pointed me in the direction of his entertaining blog and his book "The Town That Food Saved."At the time, he was at work on his latest book, "Adventures in Parenting Off The Beaten Path, Unschooling and Reconnecting With The Natural World."

Daphne Miller, M.D. introduced fascinating new thinking about the relationship between the health of our soil and the health of our bodies.
"We are not simply nourished by the soil, we are of the soil! So, starting from that premise, it stands to reason that we should care for our bodies in the same way that a mindful farmer cares for the soil. And, of course, we should treat our farms and soil as if they are an extension of our body."
Last year, Frances Moore Lappe spoke about her work with the Small Planet Institute and the 10 Myths of World Hunger. (I was familiar with her as the author of "Diet For A Small Planet," my introduction to a plant-based diet and the concept of complementary protein sources.)

Wes Jackson of The Land Institute was the keynote speaker for my first PASA conference. His talk about the Farm Bill was eye-opening to this beginning farmer.
The Land Institute is a "science-based research organization that promotes an alternative to current destructive agricultural practices. Our work is dedicated to advancing perennial grain crops and polyculture farming solutions."
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the PASA Farming For The Future Conference. In addition to the keynote speakers, the conference offers workshops, roundtable discussions and a trade show offering a variety of farming-related products (this is where I always pick up my Organic Mechanics seed starting mix).

Keynote speaker was Richard Alley whose engaging talk provided us with a look at how climate change is already affecting life on our planet. He says that there shouldn't be a serious role for politics in climate science -- science is science.
"We must have a dialogue about the things that really matter. Wisest paths forward, how hard do we work to reduce CO2 emissions, how hard do we work to prepare for the changes that are coming. Those sorts of questions are very big. They’re very important. And having them is a path to getting us towards a brighter future."